Police brutality in the USA from the viewpoint of its magnitude and frequency has reached the point that no one can remain indifferent to this problem. A free, democratic, society needs police force to enforce and maintain law and order. Police in general enforces the law and order in a proper way even sacrificing their own lives. However, it does not allow police to abuse their power of the force. This article reviews police brutality facts, analyzes probable reasons, studies recommended methods to control the use of unreasonable force and proposes probable solution of this problem.Introduction
American Constitution protects the people and punishes those who violate others’ constitutional rights. For this purpose, executive branch of the government uses police force. Members of the police force are government officials employed to implement and maintain law and order in the society. Society, on the other hand, gives police authority to uphold and enforce the law. Police are engaged in a dangerous and stressful situation with the involvement of a violent situation that needs to be controlled. Thus, the underlying principle of police job is to resolve conflicts thru the use of force. The law enforcement officials uses the term “use of force” to regulate the action of the police. Conceptually use of police may be described in the form of; presence (use of effect), verbalization (commanding a subject), empty hand controls, intermediate control (non-lethal weapon), and deadly force (use of a firearm to cause permanent injury or death to a subject).
Use of force by police is called the police power. The definition of police power is, “The inherent authority of a government to impose restrictions on private rights for the sake of public welfare, order, and security” (Police Power-Definition of Police Power). This power gives a police officer ability to control the people. The dilemma is how much power is the right power and how to control the excessive power. According to Milton Mollen, chairman of the Special Commission to Investigate Corruption within the Police department of the City of New York during 1990 and 1992, (Lofca, 2002)) that police has more power than a judge. A police officer gets a social status protected by the government, a gun, and a right to arrest. However, police is another human being who is not a saint. Misuse and abuse of power generates from human nature and instinct. However, this does not mean that every officer is corrupt and brutal, his or her behavior exceeds the parameters of the proper conduct. This thesis does not represent the entire law enforcement as an organization that abuses power on a daily basis. It focuses on a crime that is called Police Brutality.
In enforcing law upon a citizen, a police officer in some style places restrictions on them. In the process of placing restrictions, police may abuse the power. When police abuse his or her power it is called police misconduct, and among all misconducts brutality is the worst. Amnesty International study noted thousands of reports (Mangan) of assault and ill treatment caused to the citizens by the police officers in the USA who used excessive force and violated human rights of their victims. On April 1999, Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States speaking on police brutality (USA: Race, rights and police brutality, 1999) noted that the issue is national in scope and reaches people all across the country. The Attorney General also mentioned that the citizens believe law enforcement is too aggressive, biased, disrespectful and unfair (USA: Race, rights and police brutality, 1999).
Police officers are allowed to use both psychological and physical forces to apprehend criminals and solve crimes. However, excessive use of physical force during this apprehension process results into police brutality (Alpret & Smith, 1994). When asked in a Gallup poll taken in March 1991, if the respondent knew anyone who had been physically mistreated or abused by the police, 20 responded positively (Alpret & Smith, 1994).
Review of facts
On January 2009, Oscar Grant (Lendman, 2010) an unarmed, thrust face down on the ground, offering no resistance was shot on the back and killed in Oakland, CA by transit officer, Johannes Mehserle. In March 2009, National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP) started to record police conduct in the United States. NPMSRP reported (Packman, 2010) the following for the months starting from January 2010 thru March 2010.
- 1,160 Reports of police misconduct cited.
- 1,410 Law enforcement officers cited in recorded police misconduct reports.
- 77 Police Chiefs, Sheriffs, and other department leaders cited in misconduct reports.
- 1,446 Alleged victims of police misconduct cited in reports.
- 52 Fatalities attributed to alleged acts of police misconduct.
- 16.5 Law enforcement officers cited in the news for misconduct on average each day.
- $54,320,000 was paid out in settlements and judgments for police misconduct related civil lawsuits.
Published reports in 2008 by FBI and DOJ stated that 1 out of every 220 citizens was accused of violent crime; while for police officers that number was 1 out of 235. The same report indicated that among different categories of misconduct complaints; non-firearm related police brutality topped the list with 19.4 , leaving behind officer involved in sexual misconduct in the second place with 10.9 . The NPMSRP from April 2010 to June 2010 recorded 5,986 misconducts, 382 fatalities connected to misconducts, and use of tax money in the number of $ 347,455,000 in related settlements and judgments (Police Brutality Statistics, 2011).
In 1990, the whole world, voiced hysteria over “racism” in the American police on Rodney King beating case. July 2012 published video on the Internet of Robert Leone beating that took place in late 2010 is a living proof that police brutality is not a feature of the past (Baron, 2012). Trooper Scott Renfer reportedly broke his own hand after delivering “blow after a blow” to Leone’s head (Man Suing PA State Police After Gruesome Beating & Arrest, 2012).
On August 9, 1997 at 4 a.m. series of tragic incidents happened in one of New York nightclubs. In the chaos police officer, Justin Volpe was punched on the side of his head. Officers Charles Schwarz and Thomas Wiese mistakenly thought Abner Louima, a Haitian, had done it, and they arrested him. Officer Volpe and other officer struck Louima in the face with their fists while he seated handcuffed in the squad car. Officer Volpe along with another officer shoved a wooden stick up Louima’s rectum when they returned to the police station (Horowitz).
In August 1999, a SWAT teams from the El Monte police department shot dead an unarmed elderly man of Mexican origin, Mario Paz, in a wrongful drug raid (USA: Race, rights and police brutality, 1999).
In June 1999 in Chicago, LaTanya Haggerty, a 19-year-old passenger in a car pulled over by Chicago police after a short chase, was shot dead when officers mistook the cell phone in her hand for a gun (Shaw, 2005).
At about 12.40 a.m, in February 1999, four officers all in street apparel, approached Mr. Diallo, a black man on the stoop of his property and fired 41 shots, striking him 19 times, as he backed away inside. The policemen, who are white, alleged they had believed he had a gun. It turned out to be a wallet (Fritsch, 2009).
All of the victims in above-mentioned incidents were unarmed, acted in the non-violent way. None of these victims showed any resistance to the police officers to justify the use of excessive forces. All of the victims were at the mercy of the officers who exercised brutality upon then. The officers involved in all incidents have something common – each of them violated human and constitutional right of the victims, police codes of conduct, and they abused their power.
Police policies and laws limit an officer’s ability to use excessive forces, however; neither has been able to explain the limits of reasonable force (Alpret & Smith, 1994). There also exist lack of coordination between the justice system and police organization (Mangan, D). A police officer commits an offence by exercising brutality at work. The justice system wants to punish the offenders, while the police system seems to encourage the use of excessive power. Police system must realize that committing a brutalizing act in the occupation of policing, an officer commits a criminal offense. They should not exonerate police departments when cops misbehave: the oft-noted incident that police officers who brutalize citizens have often done so several times before (Organizational Culture and Police Misconduct, 2005). On October 5, 2010 when Elvira Fernandez called the police she could not have known what was about to happen. She was embroiled in a domestic dispute with her 29-year old son Daniel Rodrigez. Officer Richard Chrisman permanently settled the dispute by killing unarmed Daniel. The same officer gained popularity in the 2005 when he was caught on video planting a crack-pipe on a homeless woman. Officer Chrisman was reported to have pepper sprayed and Tasered Daniel, killed the family dog for barking (but not attacking) before pumping two bullets into Daniel’s body.
Police brutality should be considered as an occupation crime, because it is a violation of the legal codes in the course of activity in a legitimate profession (Mangan, D). The roots that cause police brutality (Benson, 2001) are hidden in male character; (1) machismo; (2) militarism; (3) racism; and (4) the code of silence. Machismo is also described as hyper masculinity. It combines in male character physical strength, and dominance. These two attributes of male character generate aggression, violence thru brutality. Police machismo is expressed thru getting male officers involved in hostile confrontations with the public, use of excessive force, shooting, drug dealing, framing suspects thru deception and lies. Police department is organized in military-style hierarchies. In recent time, police organizations are simply mimicking military tactics by using maximum strength in trivial situations, with powerful and sophisticated equipment and equipment, threatening and dehumanizing citizens into enemies of the war, who must be won at all costs (Benson, 2001).
The issue of police brutality has significant importance in the society because it demonstrates basic conflicts that arise from policing in a democratic society. Acknowledging the importance of this issue various theories have been projected for controlling the negative behavior of police in improving police and community relations. In his work Varieties of Police Behavior, James Wilson proposed two models (Cao, 2002) for controlling police misconduct; the professional model and the bureaucratic model. The first model proposes to engage best-trained, most honest candidate as police officers. The second model proposes to control police officers by enforcing rules and regulations. Richard Laudman (Cao, 2002), on the other hand, criticizes Wilson’s professional model. Richard Laudman in his work, Police and Policing: An introduction, states that by focusing attention on the individual officer to control the misconduct ignores the social and organizational misconduct. According to Laudman, most of the police misconducts are products of departure from the policing ethics, so what needs to be controlled is not behavior of a single police officer, but organizational climate (Cao, 2002). The bureaucratic model has also faced criticism for enforcing negative rules. Herman Goldstein (Cao, 2002) in his work Policing a Free Society, advocates for imposing effective approaches to control police behavior. The concept of this approach is in rewarding correct behavior and providing a role model. Goldstein also suggests implementing specific training aimed at preventing improper conduct and police brutality.
Expect high profile cases, majority of information in studying police brutality come from citizens complaints. From the police standpoint of view, charges referring the use of excessive force could be attributed to the fact that subjects have been apprehended for a legitimate offence, or have lurked by the prospects of winning a hefty lawsuit. Nonetheless, analyses on the citizen complaints indicate that citizens did not file a complaint merely for a personal revenge motive. Filing of complaints contains obstacles, such as personal fear of reprisal, complex and cumbersome filing procedure, and the highlighted possibility of criminal prosecution for making a false report.
A democratic society needs policing institutions to enforce laws, protect the right of citizens and apprehend offenders. Abolishing of police institution is never an option. However, a free, democratic society needs to get rid of police brutality. After studying individual cases and experts’ opinion this study suggests the following recommendations to control the police brutality:
- The law enforcement agency must imply zero-tolerance to the use of excessive force, just like zero-tolerance to the drug.
- Lawmakers must resolve the ambiguity of the issue (1) what is an excessive force, (2) how to distinguish reasonable force from excessive force. Two issues should be studied to prescribe regulations for reasonable and excessive force, (1) when a suspect is trying to escape, (2) when a suspect posses a physical threat to the officer.
- Officer selection procedure should be based on rigorous psychological and emotional assessment of individuals.
- Police officers needs to acknowledge that their jobs are noble, and the society has handed them an enormous authority, which they need to use with the utmost care.
Alpret, G. & Smith. W. (1994). How Reasonable the Reasonable Man ? : Police and Excessive Force. University of South California. Retrieved from http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=crim_facpub
Baron, A. (2012, July 2012). Review: Police Brutality – The Robert Leon Case. digitaljournal.com. Retrieved from http://digitaljournal.com/article/328061
Benson, R. (2001). Changing Police Culture: The Sine Qua Non of Reform. Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2265&context=llr
Cao, L. (2002, February 9). Curbing Police Brutality: What Works? : A Reanalysis of Citizens Complaints at the Organizational Level. ncjrc.gov. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/192518.pdf
Fritch, Jane. (2000, February 26). The Diallo Verdict: The overview. nytimes.com. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/26/nyregion/diallo-verdict-overview-4-officers-diallo-shooting-are-acquitted-all-charges.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
Heade, K. (2011, April 13). End Police Brutality. Law Journal for Social Justice. Retrieved from http://ljsj.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/end-police-brutality/
Horowitz, C. (n.d.). An Officer and an Atrocity. nymag.com. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/crimelaw/features/1265/
Lendman, S. (2010, July 13). Police Brutality in America. Baltimorechronocile.com. Retrieved from http://baltimorechronicle.com/2010/071310Lendman.shtml
Lofca, I. (2002). A Case Study of Police Misconduct in the United States of America and an Applicable Model for Turkish National Police. Master of Science Thesis. University of North Texas. Retrieved from http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc3234/m2/1/high_res_d/thesis.pdf
Man Suing PA State Police After Gruesome Beating & Arrest. (2012, July 5). theblaze.com. Retrieved from http://www.theblaze.com/stories/shut-up-you-mother-fer-man-suing-pa-state-police-after-gruesome-beating-arrest-watch-the-video-here/
Mangan, D. (n.d.). Police Brutality: The use of Excessive Force. drury.edu. Retrieved from http://www.drury.edu/ess/irconf/dmangan.html
Organizational Culture and Police Misconduct. (2004). Virginia Journal University Virginia School of Law , Volume 8. Retrieved from http://www.law.virginia.edu/pdf/brochures/vajournal05.pdf
Packman, D. (2010, April 18). 2010 Q1 NPMSRP Police Misconduct Statistical Report. Cato Institute. Retrieved from http://www.policemisconduct.net/2010-q1-npmsrp-police-misconduct-statistical-report/
Police Brutality Statistics. (2011, April 13). copblock.org Retrieved from http://www.copblock.org/2841/police-brutality-statistics/
Police Power – Definition of Police Power. (n.d.). yourdictionary.com. Retrieved from http://www.yourdictionary.com/police-power
Shaw, C. (2005, February 5). The Creeping Police State. Green Party of The United States. Retrieved from http://www.gp.org/articles/shaw_2005_02_04.shtml
USA: Race, rights and police brutality. (1999, August 31). Amnesty International. Retrieved from http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/147/1999